“A remarkable and very moving feat of storytelling.” —Andrew Holgate
A Foreword Reviews Editor's pick!
Money makes Beijing go round in Jonathan Tel's seductive, puzzle-like novel-in-stories.
China is the center of the world, and the center of China is Beijing, and at the center of Beijing is a billionaire financier named Qin. At the opening of this novel-in-stories, billionaire Qin is lying in state at his funeral, victim of a sudden and premature death. Moving back and forth in time, we meet a wide range of Chinese, all linked to Qin by a degree or two of separation: a property developer, a street artist, a prostitute, a fashion model, a spy, a thief, an expat lawyer, a muckraking journalist. By the end of this biting, post-post-modern cultural observation, the manner of Qin’s death is revealed. Scratching the Head of Chairman Mao presents today’s China in its full and fabulous complexity.
Praise for Scratching the Head of Chairman Mao
"[In]Scratching the Head of Chairman Mao . . . the cult of personality has given way to a cult of cash. . . . We follow an unemployed construction worker who begins stealing shoes from funerals to sell on the black market; a barber whose woes multiply after he's swindled by a customer; and, in the deviously good 'The Average Person in China,' an everyman professor who is mistakenly involved in a massibe bribery attempt. 'Money,' the professor realizes, 'is a psychotropic drug; it transforms all your perceptions.' Mr. Tel is excellent at subtly warping the ordinary experiences of his characters, blending the real with the absurd."—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Tel's beguiling collection (after The Beijing of Possibilities) follows several characters in China who are connected to a billionaire before his death. . . . Qin, the billionaire, says, 'The Truth always lies in the gaps between the stories.' . . . Readers will find themselves flipping back to previous stories to find links and fill in the gaps around Qin's life. Tel's masterful work is an enchanting enigma."—Publishers Weekly
"In busy Beijing, everyone is connected. So a writer discovers . . . in Jonathan Tel's deliciously tangled Scratching the Head of Chairman Mao. . . .Its characters rise and fall, then return again later, their scars and hardened shells exposed and complex. The end impression reveals certain truths, among them that every action must eventually be answered for."—Editor's pick, Foreword Reviews
"Jonathan Tel has an amazing ability to 'get into the heads of Chinese people.' His characters feel authentic, yet the storytelling is refreshingly different."—Lijia Zhang, author of Lotus and Socialism is Great!: A Worker's Memoir
Praise for Jonathan Tel
“Bright, sharply imagined, meticulously homeworked, and engagingly written—these [are] hallmarks of Jonathan Tel’s fictions.”—John Barth
“An ingenious, often surreal account of the tensions between ancient tradition and go-go capitalism…Smart, subtly observed, and entertaining.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[P]art W.G. Sebald and part Italo Calvino, [this] provides a glimpse for the Western reader into the complicated, vibrant world of Beijing.”—Publishers Weekly
“Astonishing…Written with assurance and insight.”—Library Journal
“[A] convincing picture of the new China, a place where the old hierarchies have outlasted the pieties that sustained them.”—Adam Mars-Jones
“[Tel] plunges us into an exotic but familiar relationship. [This] portrait of dependence and exploitation is rueful, funny and utterly compelling.”—Philip Hensher